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In choosing Estes, Baker goes with gut

9/24/2003

From the Departments of Why? and Who? ...

Why is Shawn Estes starting for the Cubs against the Reds tonight?
Prosecution: His ERA is 6.09. He's allowed 178 hits and 81 walks in 143 innings. He hasn't won a game since July 27 (and that was a shaky five-inning stint).

Defense: According to Dusty Baker, "Shawn has been in playoff action before. He has been down the stretch, he has pitched playoff games."

Prosecution: It's true that Estes has pitched playoff games. It's also true that he lasted the grand total of three innings in each of his two playoff starts, and that his career ERA in the postseason is 10.50.

Defense: What choice does Baker have? The other obvious option is Juan Cruz ... and his ERA is even worse than Estes' (if just by a hair, at 6.10). Cruz has gotten hammered in each of his last two starts, one of them against the Reds 11 days ago. Is Cruz more talented than Estes? Sure. Can you expect a major-league manager to rely on talent alone at this point in the season? Hardly.

Verdict: Short of using his four good starters on short rest down the stretch, Baker is making the best of a bad situation. And after all these years, he's earned the benefit of the doubt.

Why is everybody making such a big deal over Shannon Stewart?
Prosecution: After all, the Twins now have a six-game lead, and there's just no way that Stewart's made the difference between the Twins being in first place and second.

Defense: The Twins took off immediately after Stewart arrived from Toronto, and he brought a whole new dimension to the club.

Prosecution: (Snort) Which dimension is that? Defense? Stewart is not generally regarded as a particularly accomplished outfielder. Speed? Since joining the Twins, Stewart has totaled exactly three stolen bases and zero triples.

Defense: If it pleases the court, let the record show that the prosecution puts virtually no stock at all in things like "momentum" and "chemistry."

Prosecution: Granted. But let the record also show that the defense is suffering a classic case of Fundamental Attribution Error. The Twins started playing well after Stewart arrived, so of course he must be the reason.

Except he's not. Stewart's been solid, but he addressed a non-existent need. What the Twins needed was to pitch better ... and that's what they've done. Look at what three of their starters have done before and since the All-Star break:

Before Since
J. Santana 4-2, 3.00 8-1, 3.32
Brad Radke 5-9, 5.49 9-1, 3.32
K. Rogers 7-5, 4.89 6-3, 4.15

Kenny Rogers has pitched better, Radke's pitched a lot better, and the Twins finally figured out that Johan Santana belongs in the rotation rather than the bullpen. The Twins had a 4.74 ERA before the All-Star break, and they have a 3.89 ERA since. So with all due respect to the defense, if he really thinks that Stewart has made the difference, then he lacks a Fundamental Understanding of Baseball.

Who's to blame for the Mariners' shocking decline?
Prosecution: First, we'd like to commend ESPN.com columnist Jim Caple, who saw this coming two months ago. Jim's usually way off base, but he nailed this one.

As for who's to blame, we've got enough solid suspects to fill a good-sized jail.

  • Ichiro Suzuki -- who was actually being mentioned as an MVP candidate not that long ago -- is batting just .250 since the All-Star break, with a sub-.300 on-base percentage.

  • Mike Cameron and Dan Wilson have both been non-productive since the break.

  • Manager Bob Melvin continues to pencil Willie Bloomquist's name into the lineup, though Bloomquist resembles a major-league hitter about as much as he resembles a fire truck.

    Those are problems. On the other hand, Mariners like Randy Winn and Carlos Guillen have taken up some of the slack, so the M's haven't been that impotent with the sticks.

    No, the real problem has been the starting pitching. Ryan Franklin and Jamie Moyer have been solid in the second half, but the Mariners' other three starters have acquitted themselves poorly.

    Before Since
    J. Pineiro 11-5, 3.28 4-6, 4.81
    G. Meche 10-5, 3.61 5-7, 6.13
    F. Garcia 9-8, 4.41 3-6, 5.07

    In case you haven't heard, the Mariners are, if they keep to their schedule over the next five days, going to become the first team since 1966 to use only five starters all season. But looking at Gil Meche's and Joel Pineiro's second-half numbers, don't you have to wonder if this is a good thing?

    It's easy to blame GM Pat Gillick for standing pat yet again, and not going out and finding a real third baseman two months ago. But a real third baseman wouldn't have made much of a difference. The problem wasn't Jeff Cirillo; it was Meche and Pineiro.

    *********

    Today marks the 100th anniversary of something that once was quite famous, but has now been almost completely forgotten.

    From the Dickson Baseball Dictionary:

    john Anderson, a/John Anderson n. Term for the particular boner committed when a runner attempts to steal an occupied base. It has been passed down from John Anderson who, while playing for the New York Highlanders in 1904, pulled a john anderson with the bases loaded.

    A dozen or so years ago, I spent many hours looking at microfilm, trying to track down the origin of this archaic piece of baseball slang, but I never did find it and eventually gave up.

    I didn't find it because when it happened, Anderson wasn't playing for the Highlanders in 1904 (or 1905, the other season I checked). He was playing for the St. Louis Browns in 1903. As researcher Peter Morris recently discovered, the fateful play occurred on September 25, 1903. What Morris found, with the help of Retrosheet's Dave Smith, is that there's no evidence that Anderson was actually trying to steal second base, with one account merely saying he "was caught off first" and another saying he "may have tried to steal 2nd with bases loaded."

    We'll never know for sure what happened on September 25, 1903. One hundred years ago, there weren't any TV cameras or videotape, and sometimes things happened when nobody was watching all that closely. And so we have to use our imagination.

    Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.